[spoilers for Breaking Bad, The Master’s Sun and Two Weeks]
It’s been a transitional period for me in real life and naturally I’ve been thinking alot about transitions in dramaland as well. That in-between period of endings and beginnings, when you’re fishing around and sussing out new keepers is like being in drama limbo. Especially if you’re coming off a crack drama, you end up searching for your next fix in a kind of wandering funk.
Endings have such a huge impact on how you perceive a drama. A consistently good drama with a weak ending dulls the whole show and vice versa. The nature of the K-drama making machine ensures that we can expect a certain amount of unpredictability, which is why we always watch a drama’s home stretch with a combination of hope that the show won’t let you down, and fear that it could go off the rails at any moment.
So when three dramas I’ve enjoyed immensely–Two Weeks, The Master’s Sun, Breaking Bad (yes, I do still watch a few US shows)–ended really well last month I was overjoyed. And it also got me thinking about what makes a satisfying ending. Is it enough for it to be merely pleasurable? Or does it have to end meaningfully as well, offering closure and significance while staying true to the show’s vision?
I have been a fan of Breaking Bad for the past two years after I got caught up through one long a frenzied marathon. It’s a brilliant show and its accolades are well-earned. I’ve been enthralled by the story, the intricacies of it’s plot, it’s stunning stylised visuals and the performances of its actors. I’ve found it to be compulsive viewing, with some heavy emotional punches that have landed squarely in my gut over the course of it’s six seasons. It’s ending was exceedingly pleasurable for me with its violence tinged with black humour, the fact that our protagonist goes out literally with a bang, on his own terms. Walter White is not an admirable man, but as a protagonist and the author of his own destiny, I rooted for him. Would it have meant more if Walter didn’t go out in a blaze of glory and instead, died a pitiful death, a death more reflective of the toll his actions had taken, a death he deserved? Yes, I hazard it would’ve been. But I also know that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.
Two Weeks ended in ways that I’m sure would rattle those who want overtly happy endings wrapped up with ribbons and bows. It didn’t take the easy way out and instead offered a more subtle end for Tae San. His redemption journey was just beginning and while he had saved his daughter’s life, it wasn’t enough to wipe the slate clean. He hadn’t yet fully atoned for all the bad choices and mistakes he’d made, and for him to take his place as a father he still needed to shape himself into the man he wanted to be.
Although a part of me whined and thought can’t he just have all the good things already?!, him leaving felt right for his character. Even if the show didn’t resolve the larger murder/corruption arc as thrillingly as I would’ve hoped, the heart of the show was always Tae San’s transformation and I admired the show for staying true to this right to the very end. It could’ve been more entertaining sure, but I was moved and it was satisfying.
The Master’s Sun was such a wobbly marvel of delightful highs and frustrating lows for me that I approached the ending with some resignation. So it was a tad surprising to find that the show wrapped up so completely. I got the pay-off I needed–the moment of our leads finally coming together with all the glory of a sweet, swirly-camera kiss–if not the one I wanted (a hot make-out session Tae Yang’s bed).
It was such a hard slog to get to this point that truthfully, I was just happy to see it. That the secondary characters got neat resolutions that didn’t feel forced was icing on the cake. But I only ever cared about the leads. I clung on tightly and trusted not so much in the Hong Sister’s vision, but in the insanely watchable paring of So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin (see my numerous fangirly posts for evidence). I could watch them weave baskets for 16 episodes long. So this one didn’t have much to fulfill in the first place. It was quite the easy sell.
In the end, it’s all about managing expectations isn’t it? The trick is knowing what the show can and cannot do for you, to know the limits of what you can ask for. Sometimes, pleasure or entertainment value does trump depth, sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you get blindsided by a show that surprises you and takes you places you never expected. When you get the pay off you need and/or want is when you can happily close the chapter and move on. When you don’t, well, that’s what comment section in Dramabeans is for.